The kind of reality distorting thinking by white people that created the appalling and absurd situation depicted in the photograph hasn't just evaporated. White people had to have been profoundly cognitively warped to create such a classroom configuration. It is nice to believe that such bizarre thinking can be abolished by laws. But such powerful and widespread delusional thinking doesn't just evaporate simply because of changing legalities.
I ran across an article written by Roger Wilkins that did a good job of summing up what many black citizens thought during that era.
In our naivete, we believed that the power to segregate was the greatest power that had been wielded against us. It turned out that our expectations were quite wrong. The greatest power turned out to be what it had always been: the power to define reality where blacks are concerned and to manage perceptions and therefore arrange politics and culture to reinforce those definitions. When we were segregated, we hadn’t ground into our considerations the nation’s long history of racial subordination. From the dark and cramped box of segregation, the rest of the country out there looked bright and shiny. We thought the only thing it lacked was us. We didn’t understand then how normal a part of national life racism had become.I admit to being besotted with that same naivete he writes about. Hey...legal segregation is forbidden...things will work themselves out now...right?
Nope...they didn't. Read Jonathan Kozol's The Shame of the Nation or read this article. The problem wasn't just, as noted above, segregation...it was the power of being able to define reality by white people for people of color. It was the power of white people being able to deceive themselves, via an epistemology of ignorance, that there was no race "problem" now that civil rights legislation had been enacted.
If you believe there's no problem...you might want to read this article detailing a study that showed that white men with a criminal record were more likely to be selected for employment than a black man with no criminal record...even when job qualifications were the same.
Here in the U.S. we have a race "problem"...and...that problem is created, conceived and enacted by white people. I'm one of those white people and we victimize both the targets of our denial based delusions as well as ourselves. We corrupt our own abilities to accurately perceive and understand ourselves and reality.
I came to young adulthood in a U.S. that was devoted to (the white people anyway...and they controlled (and still do) all the major institutions that publicly define 'reality' like the media, the school systems, etc) a type of racism that's called Jim Crow racism. That's what I mean by Grandpa's racism.
Currently the most prevalent type of racism is sometimes called color-blind racism (an ablest term...my apologies) or aversive racism or symbolic racism.
Jim Crow racism, in part, is/was characterized by burning crosses, white hoods, lynchings, the common use of racial slurs and legal segregation. Other horrors were "normal".
Symbolic racism is characterized by notions like the idea that blacks no longer face much prejudice or discrimination and that any problems associated with being black have to do with the failings of blacks themselves. This stuff is closely aligned with the thinking that says: "I don't see color". Joe Feagin, a sociology professor, suggests that white racist attitudes haven't changed all that much it just that whites have learned to behave and talk one way in public and differently in private. In other words...instead of changing our ways we just became more overtly dishonest as well as more self-deceptive.
The belief that racism virtually disappeared is really sort of magical when you think about it. Establishing and enforcing a white supremacist regime for centuries and somehow making it all disappear and become not a problem as the result of changing of a few laws in the 1960s? That sounds almost like a joke...one that isn't funny.
The fact is, as noted here by Ta-Nehisi Coates, that: "white supremacy is not an invention of white people; white people are an invention of white supremacy."
Centuries of crafting attitudes and beliefs about people of color and about white people that supported and sustained unspeakable atrocities and human enslavement and zip zoop...we wiped all that out just like that?
80% of the time the U.S. has existed it has been a white supremacist nation...enforced by law...but somehow we've made all that be unimportant and irrelevant to how things are now for people of color. And...we managed to do all that without formally apologizing...without any system of reconciliation and...best of all...without any compensation or reparations to the descendents of those who were subjected to slavery.
It's simply ridiculous and yet...like many of you...I didn't think about the bizarre absurdity of thinking we could recalibrate our racial mindset with the passage of a few laws...I just believed it.
If you are just beginning your journey toward comprehending/interrupting the absurdities of racism...it might be helpful for you to read this.
Grandpa's racism was just one version of white supremacy. As soon as it became unacceptable and not "normal" it morphed. It didn't disappear...it only became more adept at hiding itself in plain sight.
Outsiders (like the United Nations working group referenced in an earlier post) easily comprehend it...many who are victims understand it but those of us who are immersed in it and are beneficiaries of it...well...that's a different story. Maybe the biggest obstacle for we who are raced as white is overcoming the falsehood that we think we know or understand this stuff. The first step to learning about something is to know that you don't know.
Most white people think they "know" all they need to know about race and racism. Last year I took the risk of trying to talk to my younger sister about what I was learning and coming to understand about racism. She listened (or appeared to) and said she would read the resources I had provided her and think about it. Some weeks later she emailed and said that while she appreciated what I was presenting to her that she just didn't think it was true and then she went on to allow as to how that all that "stuff" was in the past and that she thought President Obama was just making it worse by even mentioning it.
I had not entertained much hope that she would be able to hear/understand me...but I felt the obligation to try...she is my sister after all. I did wish, that even though she was adverse to admitting ignorance, she would have avoided the remark about President Obama. It was equivalent to hearing someone say that the victim of an unwarranted attack had made the assault "worse" because they said something about what had happened. Her mindset of denial and victim blaming, sadly, exemplifies aspects of the current version of white supremacist worldview.
When we believe absurdities...we are going to make absurd remarks. I love my sister...and she's probably what would be considered to be a "good" white person...but she is effectively clueless about race and is firmly convinced she knows all that is necessary. She wouldn't wear a white hood...but she is a firm pillar in terms of obliviously supporting the white supremacist mindset via denial of its existence.
And that firm conviction of hers is a strong and enduring aspect of why racism is a white people's problem. And that firm conviction of hers is an aspect of white obliviousness. And that firm conviction of hers is part of why this nation...and all of us in it...are in deep doo doo. I say all of us because while people of color aren't the creators of or the maintainers of this mess...they are the targets of it hence the deep derangement of we who are white people harms everyone.
This stuff is heavy and hard and depressing...but...like many delusional horrors...it is so divorced from reality that it becomes almost zany at times. Go read Abagond's post about the "Barbara Bush Award for Deluded Whiteness" and then you can read Chris Rock's article about racism...both provide a little (in a sad way) levity about a really really unfunny thing.
If you're designated as being 'white' and you believe in fairness, if you believe in justice, if you believe in equality then you are obligated to put in the effort and the time and the study to learn about race and racism. If you think you can get by through just being a "good" white person who lives vegan and avoids overt racist acts...you can't. The system is so pervasive and so entrenched that unless you are pushing back against it...knowledgeably...then you are...whether you want to or not...upholding and being complicit in it. It's a mess and it's a pain in the kabooka...but...it's a mess we white people created and it is our job...our obligation...to eradicate the whole unconscionable thing.
My parents and my grandparents and my great grandparents and for generations further back all helped uphold and maintain this ugly and awful system of white supremacy. And so did yours...if you're white. And what they made...we must unmake.